In every published collaboration you will find a short story at the end. The story will always be in the same genre as the book it features in, and was awarded first place in a competition we run alongside each collaboration. The winner and runner-up can also be read in full below.
Both stories are not only Fantasy, but also focus on magic, and are a wonderful addition to our novel WYTCH BORN. Congratulations to all of these talented authors. More details about our short story competitions can be found HERE.
The usual sounds of twilight were silenced by a piercing scream. Tents arranged around a central fire pit were barely visible in the fading light, their sides flickering from the dancing flames. In one of the farthermost tents, a scream full of anguish and shame echoed out again. Scattered around the tent, members of the tribe tried to ignore the sounds from both the tent and near the fire pit, where several of the tribe’s elders gathered beside an animated man dressed in the garb of a shaman. The shaman talked and gestured toward the screaming, clearly unhappy.
Inside the tent, a young man lay on an animal skin pallet, clearly in a lot of pain, the gouge marks from his recent misfortunate hunt raw and inflamed. A young woman probed the wound, picking out detritus and dirt, cleaning it as best she could. She wasn’t the tribe’s shaman nor was she part of the shaman’s retinue, but people had sought her out because of her natural ability to heal. She too tried to ignore the increasingly manic words of the tribe’s new shaman as he ranted at the elders, his voice rising with each sentence. She concentrated instead on this young hunter, trying to save his leg.
The young woman had never imagined she would become a healer, normally the remit of a shaman, but her innate ability to understand what was needed and her success in curing some of the more serious ailments had thrust her into the role. It seemed as if the answers to what was needed just appeared in her thoughts, and the herbs she sought for treatment, previously unknown to her, appeared to glow when she searched for them. She had never questioned how or why this happened and she never lauded her ability. She was a member of the tribe, and her duty toward its survival was of more import. Her own personal desires were secondary; she lived as long as the tribe survived.
She was so deep in concentration that she never noticed the sudden silence. She didn’t even notice the tent flap being torn aside as men entered and reached for her. Her focus shattered as strong arms grabbed her and ripped her from her patient, dragging her to her feet, the young hunter screaming as his leg was suddenly dropped. Her head snapped from left to right as she sought out those who had interrupted her, her eyes seeing the men who had grabbed her and the vicious grin of the tribe’s shaman as he stood close, directing them.
“Take her outside,” he commanded, and the men holding her pulled her outside into the warm night. Even now, when her mind was a riot of confusion, not knowing or understanding what had happened, she could sense the warmth of the earth and feel the life forces around her. Animals, insects, plants, trees—everything that lived, everything that grew nearby seemed to be reaching out to her.
As she was dragged to a tree near a rocky outcrop on the outskirts of the camp, the shaman yelled to the men, “That is far enough. Stop here.” He approached the small group of men with the woman held between them. “Make sure she can’t get away,” he ordered.
Where would I go? the young woman thought, then to the men around her asked, “What’s happening? Why are you doing this? Let me go, Cha’el. You have no right!”The shock and disorientation finally leaving her, she glared defiantly at Cha’el, the tribe’s new shaman. She shook off the arms holding her and stood before him. The shocked men who had been restraining her tried to understand how such a waif of a woman had been able to shrug them off so easily.
Cha’el stepped backward away from the angry woman, shock and fear etched on his face. He was the tribe’s shaman and therefore, technically, sacrosanct, but he had only recently come into the position after his master’s death and was still trying to leave the mantle of pupil behind. His bluster was all show, but his inner, less confident self remained that of a petty, selfish bully. As he tried to back away from the young woman, he tripped over a small rock and landed unceremoniously on his back.
Winded, scared, and trying to scrabble upright, Cha’el screeched at the men, “Get her! Get her away from me!”
The young woman just stood over the shaman, seeing the fear and, for the first time, seeing how much danger she was in. Cha’el was not a confident man and saw the young woman as a threat to his position. As she let herself be dragged back by the men, the shaman found his footing and stood upright. Cha’el’s fear fueled his temper, and now fury consumed him. Even the men who held the young woman could see that the shaman was beyond sanity and stepped back, dragging the young woman with them.
“Tie her arms and legs. Make sure she can’t move,” Cha’el commanded. He had regained some dignity if not composure, and his voice was a sharp whisper.
The young woman let herself be bound. She understood that the men only did what they had to do, not what they wanted to do. Her hands were tied, and she realized how reluctant the men really were. Instead of tying her hands behind her head, as they would an enemy, they had tied them to rest in her lap. They tied her ankles and not un-gently guided her to the ground so she lay on her back.
Cha’el’s wild eyes flicked over the woman now lying prone before him. As the other men stepped back, he stepped forward and kicked the woman hard. Her grunt of pain did not appease him, and he kicked her again. When the woman moved, trying to protect herself from the blow, he screeched, “I said make sure she can’t move!” Cha’el had not realized that the men had backed farther away, trying to distance themselves from what was happening. He didn’t try to hide the contempt on his face as he muttered, “Must I do everything myself?”
Looking around, he smiled when he spied what he sought. The young woman’s eyes followed him as he approached and picked up a thick piece of wood, one of the many felled for firewood recently; it made for a sizable club as long as a man’s arm. Walking back over to the prone woman, he hefted the club in both hands and swung it at her knees. Anticipating the move, the woman lifted her legs and rolled out of the way of the very clumsy attack. This only added more fuel to the fire that was Cha’el’s fury, and he howled in frustration, swinging the log club violently toward the woman and not caring where it struck her.
One of Cha’el’s wild swings glanced off the young woman’s head and dazed her. Incapacitated, she didn’t see his next swing directed toward her legs. The thud of it hitting her thigh was followed by a moan from the still dazed woman as her body jerked from the attack. Cha’el’s next swing was better aimed, and the club hit the young woman’s knees with enough force to shatter them. The sickening sound of bones splintering reached even the men who had backed off a fair distance from the apoplectic shaman. One of them rushed in to try to stop the shaman from killing the woman outright but failed to prevent another blow glancing off the young woman’s head. As the man grabbed the club from Cha’el, he saw that the woman had been rendered unconscious—probably a blessing.
Cha’el’s fury was about to be unleashed upon the man who had dared stop him when a voice said, “Enough.” It wasn’t loud, but the authority it carried was unmistakable. Cha’el’s eyes sought out the peon who dared undermine his authority but met the gaze of one of the tribal elders instead.
“Enough,” the elder repeated, this time with more force. “The girl is not to be harmed further.”
Cha’el could not counter the command without severe repercussions to himself. Nodding at the elder, he walked back to the tents, seething to himself and planning his next move.
“Sam’an.” The elder looked at one of the men who had brought the woman to this place. “Stay and look out for her. The rest of you, return.” Without saying anything else, the elder turned and walked back behind the shaman. All but one of the other men followed him. Sam’an, one of the tribe’s gatherers, squatted next to the unconscious woman and waited.
“Be calm,” the warm voice told her. “All will be as it should be.”
“Where am I?” asked the woman, confused. All was dark, and she could not feel the ground on which she thought she lay.
“You are here, as you should be.”
“Here?” queried the woman.
“As you should be,” replied the voice.
“Who are you?” asked the woman.
“I am the soil. I am the rock. Me and my kin are everything.”
The answer was such a simple statement of fact that, even though it didn’t answer the woman’s questions, it somehow felt right. She wasn’t afraid and she couldn’t feel any pain.
“Your form is broken,” the voice told her.
“The form by which you move upon me,” the voice said.
“The form by which you move,” the voice repeated.
“And my body is broken? How?” asked the woman.
“Your form is broken, but this is how it should be,” the voice stated as a matter of fact.
“As it should be?”
“Be calm when you return. We are with you,” the voice said.
“When I return? Who is ‘we’? Where are…” The woman did not get to complete her sentence when she felt everything tilt, and her head spun.
“Be calm,” the faint voice instructed. “Calm.”
The woman groaned some time later. Sam’an, squatting silently next to her, turned and looked as the woman fought her way back to consciousness. She was still bound and lying on the sandy ground but moving slightly. Glancing at her legs, Sam’an saw that one of them had been broken and was swollen. The injury looked very serious, and Sam’an recalled the viciousness of Cha’el’s attack. He didn’t know why the shaman held so much hatred toward this woman. If anything, Sam’an had nothing but respect for her. She had, after all, helped his younger brother heal when he had been sick some time ago. Sam’an turned to look toward the tents and wondered what was happening.
Her eyes opened. It was dark and she was lying on sandy ground. Her mind tried to recall how she had ended up here, and she tried to move her arms in order to stand but felt something stopping her. She glanced toward her hands and saw that they were bound. Why? She struggled to remember what had happened, and the memories came rushing back.
The shaman was practically ranting, the elder thought. He and the others had been siting, listening to the shaman for some time now, and he was getting bored of it. The elder did not entirely trust this new shaman but had kept his peace when Cha’el’s former master had named him before he died. The elders had little choice in the matter, as it was tradition for the shaman to name his successor. That didn’t mean he had to like it. Cha’el had always been a petty boy, prone to moods and outbursts when he thought he had been slighted. Fortunately, the boy had been chosen as the old shaman’s pupil; he would not have found a place in the tribe otherwise. The petty boy had grown to be a conceited and arrogant man. Unfortunately, he was now the tribe’s shaman. The elder’s shoulders sagged slightly as he considered what this would mean for the tribe’s future.
The young woman looked down toward her legs and gasped when she saw the damage. The sound drew a look from the man standing near. He didn’t say anything, but she saw the empathy in his eyes. He quickly looked away, as if fearful she may ask something from him. This is how it should be? she thought as she recalled the voice from her dream. She wasn’t so sure she liked the current situation as it was, but she had very little say in the matter. She looked back toward her injured leg. Surely it should hurt, she thought.
She felt no pain but was sure that she wouldn’t be able to move the leg if she tried. She paused a moment, took a breath, and, holding it within her, tried to move her legs. The un-injured one moved slightly, restricted by the bindings on her ankles, but the injured leg was unresponsive. There still wasn’t any pain, and for that, she was thankful.
The night was dark and the moon had yet to rise. She had been looking upward toward the lights in the sky, seeing patterns and shapes. The sound of the men approaching made her look toward the tents to see who was coming. Her temper flared when she saw Cha’el flanked by several men. Not one for anger, she calmed herself, allowing the warmth of the ground to flow into her.
“Good…” She started when she heard the voice, unbidden, in her mind.
The woman didn’t have time to ponder as the men were upon her, staring down at her.
“Get her up,” Cha’el commanded. “And bring her back to the fire.” He turned away as the men reached for the woman and helped her upright.
She was still surprised to feel no pain from her injured leg. Two men lifted her between them, their arms linked behind her back and under her buttocks in a makeshift seat. Her ‘guard’ followed behind them silently.
Cha’el looked back and scowled when he saw how the men carried her rather than dragged her, as he would have preferred. He didn’t say anything; he had been working hard toward this moment, and although he would have liked to succumb to his pettiness, he restrained himself. His prize was near.
They took her to the gathering of the tribe near the fire. Torches had been lit to illuminate the tented camp. She saw the faces of many people she had helped—faces of her friends and her neighbors. All of them showed surprise and shock at her treatment. They were confused and eager to understand what was happening, the young woman included.
Cha’el walked toward where the tribe’s elders sat, facing the large fire, with a large, semi-circular space opened up before them. The shaman stopped in the large space and turned to face the men bringing the woman toward him. They gently lowered her to the ground, where she sat upright, her legs in front of her and her bound arms supporting her.
“Unbind her,” one of the elders commanded. “She is not going to run anywhere with a bad leg.”
Cha’el turned to complain but kept his peace. He saw the elder’s eyes on him, judging, and Cha’el finished his turn with a slight bow toward the elder in mock acquiescence. Men cut the woman’s bindings, and she propped an arm on either side of herself for better support. She didn’t try to move her legs and remained seated in front of the elders.
The elder who had commanded her unbound stood and looked out toward the faces watching the young woman. Cha’el felt a surge of pleasure rush up his body as he anticipated what was about to happen. This was one of the few elders who didn’t look at him as if he were something unpleasant; the man had been the most receptive to
Cha’el’s case against her.
“This woman has been accused of unnatural magic,” the elder said with no preamble.
“What?” the woman exclaimed.
“Hush. Be calm. This is how it should be.”
The young woman bit off what she was about to say. Was the voice real?
“Yes. We are here.”
Who was here? What was happening to her? She started to worry that she was losing her mind when she needed it the most.
“Hush. We are real and we are with you. Do not fight what should be. Accept.”
The woman reflected upon the voice. All her life, she had trusted her instincts and feelings, and they had always been right. She knew that she should trust her intuitions and not fight. She wasn’t sure about what she should accept, but she was pretty sure that she would find out soon enough.
She realized that Cha’el had been talking while the voice had distracted her. Of all the times to be distracted! Then she looked up and saw everyone staring at her.
“Do you have anything to say about this?” the standing elder asked her.
She looked toward the elder, knowing that even if she wanted to say something, she had no idea what was happening or what to say in defense. She hung her head, staring at her injured leg.
Cha’el smiled in triumph. He had never dreamed that it would be this easy to get rid of the woman who had made the tribe—his tribe—look down at him. It was because of her that he had not received the respect he was due. It was because the tribe would rather seek her out than him. She was the cancer eating at the tribe, blinding them to what he really was.
Voices shouted out from the tribespeople gathered around them. Some supported the woman, some of them condemned her for what she had allegedly done. The elder let the shouting continue for some time before he raised his arms. Waiting for the people to quiet down, he looked toward Cha’el and saw the shaman smiling to himself. Other elders saw the smile on the shaman’s face, some spitting into the dirt at their feet. When there was quiet, the standing elder spoke.
“What does our shaman require?”
Cha’el, grin replaced with an expression of seriousness, looked toward the elder and said, “Cleasing by fire!”
Shouting started again, some of the tribe surging into the semi-circle before the elders, clearly angry with the proceedings. The elder thrust his arms into the air again, waiting for the order to be followed. Eventually, the shouting and arguing stopped, and the only sound was that of the fire spitting and crackling.
“She will be cleansed by fire! Bind her now!”
The woman was grabbed and held while her arms were bound, now behind her back. She offered no resistance, trusting her instincts and feelings. She knew she should be terrified; they were going to burn her alive! It was a very rare form of ritual, and she had no memory of it ever happening during her short life.
“You stay calm. Good.” This time, the voice was different, like a breeze whispering to her.
Other men stacked firewood onto the pyre, creating a large blaze in the normally subdued fire pit. The woman looked at the elders, and they at her. Her face remained impassive, no emotions showing at all. Some of the elders, however, looked distinctly uncomfortable with the proceedings but remained quiet. The shaman seemed as if he wanted to dance from foot to foot.
After a remarkably short time, the standing elder looked from the now roaring fire to the young woman. He didn’t say a word, simply nodded, and the men holding her led her, limping badly, to the edge of the fire. A woman of the tribe rushed from the crowd and tried to stop them. She screamed at them, hitting their arms and chests. The young woman looked at her—a young mother who’d had a difficult labor. She said nothing but, catching the young mother’s eyes, smiled and shook her head. The young mother’s attack faltered as she sobbed and was led back to the side by her nervous husband.
“The choice is good,” a sharp, crackling voice said in her head.
As the men prepared to lift the young woman—the ritual involved throwing the accused into the roaring flames—she simply told them, “There is no need.” The men look at her, confusion apparent on their various faces. Without another word, she simply limped into the flames, her eyes clenched shut, the smoke from the fire causing them to water and tears to stream down her face.
Everyone went silent, stunned by her actions. Nobody had ever heard of, let alone witnessed, such an act. Who would willingly step into an inferno to their certain death? They each held their breath as the young woman threw herself into the center of the blaze.
The flames roared and flew higher into the night sky. As the crowd looked up, a growl like thunder shook most of them from their feet, including the elder and the shaman, who dropped to the ground like felled trees. Then the ground shook.
“I am FIRE and I claim this person!”
The crowd looked toward the fire as the crackling voice sounded out. They stood in awe as the flames around the woman receded, forming a circle of fire and leaving her on a bed of smoldering embers.
“I am AIR and I claim this person!”
As the second voice sounded, a breeze appeared from nowhere and blew the smoke from the embers out of the circle of flames. All could see the young woman lying in the circle, burned and covered in soot.
“I am WATER and I claim this person!”
As the third voice called out, a light cloud appeared over the young woman, dousing the embers and enveloping her with cool, cleaning mist.
“I am EARTH and I claim this person!”
The earth shook with the sounding of the fourth voice, and the crowd gasped as green shoots sprang up from the circle of embers and the wounds on the young woman, caused by the shaman and the fire, healed before their eyes.
A sharp brightness pierced the night, causing the crowd to shield their eyes, and a fifth voice rang out. “I am LIGHT and I claim this person!”
The few who braved the piercing light through the hands covering their eyes saw the young woman enveloped in a halo of white. She stood in the circle of fire, her bare feet upon fresh grass, shimmering as she gazed out toward the crowd. A sad smile appeared on her face before the light grew in intensity.
Even the bravest amongst the tribe had to keep their eyes tightly shut against the intensity of the glow. Then everything went dark again. When the tribespeople looked at the fire pit once more, the young woman was gone.
“What has happened?” the young woman asked.
“You have been chosen by my kin and myself,” the fourth voice, that of Earth, said to her.
“Chosen for what?”
“You have been chosen to guide those such as yourself. Those who will come after you from all manner of tribes and peoples.”
“I am to guide people? What am I to teach or show?” the young woman questioned.
“You will learn and you will nurture. No more shall the ignorant destroy our creations. We have seen too many who understand our nature killed by those who do not.” This time, the fifth voice, that of Light, spoke to her.
“They will be as your children to guide and teach in our ways,” the voice of Air whispered.
“You shall be their Mother,” crackled Fire.
“THE Mother!” they called to her.
James lives in Yorkshire, in the United Kingdom. He served 23 years in the British Army before a catastrophic injury ended his career. Severely disabled and unable to move to any greater extent and not being able to work, James turned to writing short articles for his own blog. The articles were well received and he was encouraged by friends, family, and some complete strangers to write something more substantial but he never had the confidence to do so.
James read about the CWC in a UK magazine in 2015. Interest piqued, he sent an email and was invited to write a chapter for Ark. Having enjoyed the experience so much, James is now undertaking an honors degree in English Literature and Creative Writing in the hope of making creative writing a full-time occupation.
When the stranger entered the Saloon, Adan Mosley’s ears prickled, a sensation he
felt only when trouble was near. He lifted his gaze from his cards—a royal
flush he hoped no one at his invitation-only poker table suspected he had used
magic to get. Though, he knew he was the only one in Retribution with the
Everyone turned to look at the man walking towards the bar. His gait was uneven, and his tall dark figure foreboding. Even Geo stopped playing piano to take a drag from his Cigarillo and down a shot. The pungent smell of miner’s sweat and liquor was invasive in the silence.
Adan’s chair scraped against the floorboards as he stood up, adjusted his tailored coat so that his manicured fingers could slip into place over his golden gun. He wondered what this guy was thinking walking into his saloon like he owned the place. He clearly didn’t know that Zabine’s belonged to him along with the mine, the hotel, and everything else. Adan didn’t tolerate trouble. There were hundreds of fresh graves to attest to this.
“Want me to get the sheriff, Mister Adan?” The barmaid asked from behind him.
“No, I got this,” Adan said.
The gun and the sheriff were just for show. But every proper town in these parts had a sheriff. If real trouble erupted, he’d just use the Power that stirred inside him—the magic that he had asked for, found, and used to build this town just like he had envisioned it.
The stranger’s face was shadowed by a wide-brimmed black hat, yet Adan could make out a strong profile behind a burly black beard. He walked over to the bar and sat on a stool, then brought both palms together as if he were praying at an altar.
Adan nodded to Geo to resume the music. He moved toward the stranger and noted his clean, but wrinkled clothes. Something told Adan he wasn’t the typical wanderer. Perhaps it was the way the Power has woken up inside him, spinning like a vortex behind his ribcage. Adan approached the man, whose eyes were shut.
“Chauncey, two more of whatever our guest here is having,” Adan said.
“Yes, Sir.” The stranger stiffened.
“You’re not here to cause any trouble now are you friend?” Adan asked. He took a swig from the glass, then complimented Chauncey on the cactus brew.
“I’m hoping not to,” the man answered, his voice low.
“You just passing through or looking to stay here in Retribution for a spell?”
“Just in and out if we’re lucky. Need to return something that was taken a long time ago.”
“Is that right?” Adan didn’t miss the we’re in his response. “Well, you came to the right place. I know everything there is to know about Retribution, so I’m sure I can help you and you can be on your way.”
“I agree.” The man took off his hat, placed it on the bar, and then turned to face Adan. His coal-black eyes bore through Aden’s amber ones like he could see inside his mind, and read the details of his thoughts. Those eyes were familiar, but Adan’s mind had gone blank. Then the Power took over, trickling through his brain, signaling that his man wanted something of his.
“You’re going to tell me what it is your looking for or I’ll escort you out of town.”
The stranger leaned in, “You’ve grown bolder since I knew you, Addy boy,” he said. “But as we both know, nature has nothing to do with that.”
Cane. Back from the dead.
It had been ten years. There was no way Cane could have survived that fall, yet here he was. This was his best friend, he should have been relieved to see him alive, yet the Power warned him that nothing good comes from someone rising from the dead. But the Power did not stop his heart from pounding. His hand instinctively went to the carved totem around his neck under his shirt. He closed his eyes and spoke silently to the Power. O Great One, fill me with your power so that I can steal my emotions and control this man.
Within moments, his pulse slowed, and he was able to speak. “Cane, my friend. It’s been a long time. Let’s go into my office and talk a little more privately.”
Once in Adan’s office, Cane walked towards the far wall where several photographs hung. Adan tensed.
“She’s fine, Cane. She doesn’t need anything upsetting her,” he paused. “She’s with child.”
Cane continued to study the wedding picture. “No Baum?”
“What do you want, Cane?” Adan asked. He was in no mood for a reunion or a recanting of lost friendships.
“It’s long past due that you return what you took,” he said.
Adan stared at Cane, noticing for the first time a subtle and thin outline of black light around his body. Auras of this color could be evil, could be strength.
“I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about,” Adan said. Though, they both knew what the question meant.
Cane shifted and focused his eyes, which turned a neon green. The shutters slammed shut, the lights shut off. In the darkness, there began to glow an orb that grew and grew.
Adan called upon his Power, but it stalled. Soon, Adan was in the center of the orb. Emptiness stretched into eternity around him.
I call upon my Power, and all its greatness, to return me to the place I call home. Nothing happened. His feet were stuck. He balled his fingers into fists and closed his eyes, concentrating. He repeated, I command thee Power, seize the dark force that imprisons me and set me free.
The orb softened, familiar shapes took form. He was back in his office, sweat dripping from his forehead. Anger swelled within him. He pulled out his gun and pointed it at Cane.
“How dare you?” he growled.
“That was an example of where I have been. Stuck in the astral plane with nothing, while you have been building your life—and as I see, a very good life at that. How would my sister react if she knew you had sacrificed her beloved brother for your own personal gain? Would she still love you if she knew what you had done?”
No one had dared challenge him since he returned from that cave. No one was going to now. Adan fired his gun, but the bullet hit his marital photo instead, shattering the glass.
“The Source wants its Power back. If it isn’t returned to the cave by the lunar eclipse tonight, your child will not live and the Source will retrieve what is his with vengeance,” Cane said, his words cutting through Adan like a blade.
“And who are you to make such threats?” he asked. “You, who couldn’t so much as speak to someone without shaking.”
“I am the sacrificed one, who learned from the Source itself the rules of the game. It would behoove you not to anger him, or me, his messenger.”
“I have the Power, no one takes it from me!” Adan said. He fired his gun again, this time hitting Cane in the temple, leaving a hole straight through his head. But Cane stood strong. Adan dropped his gun and used the Power in his hands. A laser-like flash shot from his palms, hitting Cane in the chest. Cane’s body disintegrated from his heart outwards.
A voice echoed, “The Source knows. For Zabine, do not be a fool.”
Adan kissed Zabine. He felt her round belly against his, and thought he felt a kick.
“She’s moving,” Zabine said, placing her hand on her belly and smiling. She was like an angel, he thought, with her cherubic face, gray eyes, and long flaxen hair. She conjured something in him that was far more intoxicating than desire.
“He’s moving,” Adan replied and placed his hand over hers. “Adan, Jr.”
She laughed and kissed him again. When she moved away, she began to talk about the lunar eclipse festivities planned for that night. “I have twenty pot-pies to make.”
He stiffened. “I gotta get back to the Saloon. I have work to do,” he said. “Best you get your rest, forget about those pot-pies.”
“I will not,” she said. “Are you alright, Adan?”
“Just leave it alone, Zaby. I got work to do, that’s all.”
He left her standing by the kitchen sink, peeling potatoes; the evening light shining on her person in such a way that he felt like he was leaving heaven.
He didn’t go to the Saloon. Instead he mounted his mare and headed towards the forest. He had unpleasant business to attend to.
It didn’t take long to reach his destination: a thatched-roof hut deep in the woods. The stink of the pine incense Baum burned met Adan at the door. He knocked several times before the door opened.
“You know I can just push the damn wall down. I was just knocking to be polite,” Adan said.
“Well, why didn’t you then?” Baum asked.
Adan rolled his eyes and brushed past Baum into the dark room, lit with a circle of candles on the dirt floor.
“Don’t you get tired of living like this? You know I’d set you up good in town,” Adan said.
“Adan, I’m most certain you didn’t come here to convince me to move to town. How can I help you?”
Baum sat down in front of the candles and pulled a worn frayed blanket over his shoulders while Adan paced the four corners of the small room.
“Did he come here?” Adan asked.
Baum’s head dropped.
“Baum, c’mon. Don’t go off into la-la land. Did you see Cane?”
Baum looked up, eyes wide. “Cane? Where? How?”
“So he has not been here.” Adan unbuttoned his jacket and took out his handkerchief to dust off a chair to sit on.
“I have sensed Cane’s presence occasionally through years. His is an unsettled soul looking for peace. But it isn’t possible for him to be walking the Earth,” Baum said.
“Well, he’s making anything but peace. And he is alive—sort of. He wants me to give back the Power. Says I have until the lunar eclipse tonight. He threatened me with the death of my child!”
Baum leaned forward and blew most of the candles out. He took the last one, rose and put it on the small table against the wall next to a tin dish, cup, and pitcher.
“Did he tell you where he’s been?” Baum asked.
“He said he was with the Source, in the astral plane. What the hell does that mean?”
“He was a sacrifice. You took the magic, and it took him,” Baum said.
Adan covered his face with his hands. “I thought he fell off the cliff that day. I wouldn’t have taken it if I knew he would be…imprisoned.”
“In the days when magic ruled this land, the astral plane was where those powers gained their strength. Even magic isn’t immune to the Source, the great equaling power of the Earth. There’s always a give and take.”
Baum lit a lantern with the candle.
“I can give riches, jewels, land, but I cannot give back the Power,” Adan said.
“Adan, you have a wife, a child on the way, a home. You are a rich man and you could spend the rest of your years simply appreciating what you already have.”
“Baum, it’s not just me, I owe it to the town to continue to build Retribution into greatness for all. They’re all counting on me.”
“And what about Cane?”
The name was barely off Baum’s lips when a green light sparked from the lantern. Adan froze. Baum backed away slowly, his head cocked to one side.
When Cane appeared he turned to Baum.
“Thank you my friend,” Cane said.
Baum gaped as the green light shrunk back to a few sparks around Cane’s hands. “For what?” Baum stuttered.
“I heard your prayers for me.”
Baum took a step toward Cane. Touched his shoulder. It was solid. “You heard me?”
“Yes, and it was like heat warming my frozen heart.” Cane turned to Adan. “Adan, nothing you can do can change what you must do.”
Adan felt a burning in his chest. That’s what his father told him when he was young; when they had no food to eat; when his mother was sick. But once he had the Power, there was nothing that Adan couldn’t do. He would never give that up that control.
“I’m not so sure about that, Cane.” Adan focused his Power at the green flicker in the lantern and sent his white flame to extinguish it. And to his surprise it went out, and Cane faded away.
“Adan what did you do?!” Baum cried. “He’s back from the dead, I wanted to talk with him!”
“He’s not back. He’s in some weird dimension, neither here nor there. We have to figure out how to release him. You see how strong my Power is, if Cane joins me we can go up against the Source, right?”
“I’m not sure there is any way to know that,” Baum said, staring at the spot where Cane stood.
“Come on Baum, talk some sense into Cane. Like the old days. Sit down and we’ll have some of your tea leaves to figure it out.” Adan smiled.
“You want me to make you tea?”
“No to the tea or no to Cane?”
Baum furrowed his brow and set his jaw. He faced Adan. “No to both. Cane was our best friend. You must return the Power and ask for his life returned.”
Adan stood up slowly, stretching his height over Baum’s. He felt his fingers tingle as the Power worked inside. He wanted to do this the right way: to save Cane and keep his Power. But without Baum on his side, he’d never be able to reason with Cane.
“I don’t believe you’ve ever gone up against me.”
Baum shifted back. “The Power was never yours to keep forever, Adan. Your time has ended with it. Do the right thing.”
Adan buttoned his coat and walked to the door. Fire and anger burned within him. He had to release it. “The magic will end when I say its time. Not you, nor Cane.” Adan raised his hand and shot a line of fire from his palm across the wall.
After mounting his mare, he turned to see Baum running out of the hut, now engulfed in flames. He’d have to deal with Cane himself.
Adan ran the horse into a heavy sweat back to his house. He went inside, brushing by Zabine, who was covered in flour in the kitchen. In the bedroom, he slid to his knees by their bed and rifled through boxes for the burlap sack. He opened it and pulled the anthracite rock out, the one he found in that gilded and carved box, deep in the cave that day, the day that changed everything. He’d always known the rock held the key to his Power and at night could feel it regenerating him from under the bed while he slept.
“Honey, what is it?” Zabine asked.
“Nothing baby, I just wanted to find this for Baum. It was something we found together when we were kids.”
“That’s nice, I wondered why you kept that old rock around.”
With that she smiled. The warm, rich smell of pie crust and bubbling gravy made Adan’s mouth water. He was losing control, and he did not like it one bit.
Adan rode to the cave. He felt the Power of the anthracite throbbing in his pocket. He was determined to find a way to defeat Cane and send him back to the astral plane if he wouldn’t cooperate. He removed the brush from the entrance of the cave and walked inwards. His Power directed him through the labyrinth tunnels towards the place where it all began. When he reached the cavern, he used telepathy to speak to Cane.
“We have unfinished business.”
“Well, I couldn't agree more,” Cane said.
Adan swung around to see Cane.
“You’re ready then, to give it back?” Cane asked.
“Cane, I can get you out of the astral plane. We can use the power together,” Adan said.
“Doesn’t work that way,” Cane said.
“What if it did?”
Cane leaned forward, and his face showed a hint of curiosity.
“Adan!” A voice echoed, then came closer. Baum sidled into the room. His eyes narrowed. “I came here to stop the two of you from blowing this town away.”
“We’re not going to do that, are we Cane?” Adan said. “We’re going to figure out how the three of us can stay together.”
“Go on,” Cane said.
“If you can do that green orb thing again, and put you in it this time, I can break you out of it. I know that will free you, I’m sure of it.”
“I can’t betray the Source,” Cane said.
“Your sister, your friends. We need you. You should not be alone, trapped in the astral plane forever. We can defeat the Source—or trick it at least—I owe you that.”
Cane seemed to consider this.
“Zabine still cries for you at night,” Cane said.
At this, Cane looked pained. “My sister,” he said. He turned to Baum. “What do you think?”
“It’s too dangerous,” Baum said.
Cane looked at Adan. “If you are sure, then we all need to be in it,” Cane said. “That way, you have all three of our fates in your hands. I do not want to be left behind again.”
Adan had built this entire town from nothing and had taken care of everyone. He could certainly take care of the three of them now.
“Adan, Cane, let’s talk about this,” Baum said.
Adan ignored him. He’d had his chance to help and now Baum was going to follow, not lead.
“Ok let’s do it,” Adan said.
“Wait,” Baum said. But it was too late.
Cane stood and raised his arms slowly and a green film swirled just above the floor and raised walls around them. Adan felt the same strangled feeling as before making it hard to lift his hand with the stone. He stumbled to the wall looking back to see Baum turned to stone or so it looked that way. Cane stood upright with his eyes closed, chanting. Adan raised the anthracite up, but now it felt like a thousand pound weight. He felt himself screaming but could only hear the whipping whirlwind around him. He prayed to the Power to give him more strength. And with the Power, he slammed the rock against the green wall. Over and over he pounded, but it did nothing.
As the Source grew angry, Cane expanded, distorted, formed a prism of colors that danced in circles until a tiny black hole formed. Adan held tightly to the rock, yet it was pulled into what was now a small opening. As the hole widened, and the blackness thickened, the rock pulled with greater force towards it. Adan tried to hold on, but the pull was too great. The rock flew from his hands. His plan was failing.
“No,” he shouted. The energy of the black hole was strong and it pulled him into it as well.
Down, down, he fell. The darkness faded, replaced by Earth and sharp edges. He stopped falling and found himself standing on a thin ledge. He looked up and saw Cane, looking down at him, holding a rope, with a blank expression across his face. This was the very cliff he had pushed Cane off of ten years ago. He grabbed at the branches, at the rocks, desperate to climb back up.
“Help me up and we’ll do it your way, I promise,” he cried.
“All right Adan.” Cane said. But instead of dropping the rope, Cane pulled from his pocket the anthracite rock. He dropped it.
Adan watched the anthracite grow larger as it fell, and realized, just as Baum had said, the great equaling power was here for payment. There was no way around it. He put his hand over his necklace, the carved eagle that Cane had crafted for him long ago. He ripped the bird from his neck and threw it upwards, cursing Cane.
The totem grew into a full size bird. Adan was filled with hope. But instead, the eagle flew towards Cane and lifted him upwards towards a pinhole in the sky. Adan knew then that he was about to be trapped in the astral plane.
He cried for his wife and unborn baby as the large anthracite hit the ledge, shattering it, and sending him barreling down into the dark, deep, and desolate Ether.
Jean Grabow works in an advertising agency and goes from writing copy to writing fiction during the evenings and weekends. She is currently working on two projects, a Young Adult novel and an adult novel based on her work experiences. Jean is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and holds a Certificate in Fiction Writing from the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program. Jean enjoyed writing a chapter for Wytch Born, her first CWC project, and “Retribution,“ her first collaborative short story. She lives in the Los Angeles, where most things seem like fiction.
Evelyn K. Pentikis is a writer, copyeditor, and mother of two boys. Evelyn has a Certificate in Fiction Writing from the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program and a Certificate in Copyediting from U.C. San Diego Extension. She is a member of the American Copy Editors Society (ACES) and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Previously, she practiced law. She is currently working on a Young Adult Fiction Novel. Wytch Born is her first collaborative novel with the CWC, and “Retribution” is her first collaborative short story. She also is a contributing writer to CWC’s The Map. In her spare time, Evelyn is an avid runner, swimmer, and reader.